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Engaging Students with Real-World Projects

Bringing real-world problems into the classroom can spark excitement and make learning more meaningful for students, according to professors who have been doing just that in the Coggin College of Business. Here are two examples of the many courses on our campus and at Coggin that include community involvement and real-world problem solving with the Jacksonville business community.

Professor in front of a monitor talking to a classConsumer Behavior Marketing Course
For marketing major Morgan Viccione, the nonprofit case study she worked on in Dr. Courtney Azzari’s Consumer Behavior course last fall was “eye-opening.” Pulled from the real world, the project exposed her to important community issues. “I actually thought it was really helpful doing all the research, reviewing the statistics and putting the presentation together,” said Viccione, whose long-term goal may include work at a nonprofit.

For Azzari, assistant professor of marketing, who has used the case study approach for the past four semesters, the results each term have been positive ― some presentations even "brilliant" ― and overall, the students have been engaged. As a result, she sees the project as “the best of all worlds.” “Students do something that’s real-world where they feel they can actually have an impact,” she said. “They’re looking at a real company with real clients, so it makes it more important for them than a textbook case study, and I think they have a greater stake in the work.”

The classroom partnership began when Azzari met Amanda Mahan, director of marketing and communications at Operation New Hope, a local nonprofit that provides training and employment options to reduce the obstacles that people face following incarceration. Not the typical marketing model, the organization has three target markets: clients who need the services but don’t pay for them, donors who fund the programs, and employers who hire the clients.

Throughout the semester, and after meeting with Amanda Mahan from Operation New Hope, students reviewed research to understand each of the groups. Who are they demographically? What’s their lifestyle? What do you know about them?
“Students look at the internal and external influences that shape the buying decisions of the target markets and cause them to make the decisions they do in the marketplace,” Azzari said. “Then they select a target group and create a marketing campaign that they believe will resonate with them.”

From the nonprofit’s perspective, Mahan appreciates the student’s ideas, calling some of the campaigns “exceptional,” with fresh ideas she puts to use in her marketing materials for Operation New Hope. In addition, she has hired three student interns from these collaborations and looks forward to continued interactions with UNF students.

While Azzari believes the course teaches students the marketing skills they need, she also believes they gain from an expanded way of thinking. “One of the goals of college should be to expand your mind, your worldviews and your perspectives,” she said. “We need to broaden students’ way of thinking, and this topic is completely outside what most of them deal with and think about on a day-to-day basis.”

Honors in Marketing Course
To ship a container of goods from China to Los Angeles would ordinarily cost retailers about $2,000 with delivery in several weeks. Today, the price for a shipment can be as high as $20,000, and it may not arrive for months.

Crowley Maritime Corporation, a Jacksonville-based company and member of the Marketing Advisory Council at Coggin, has customers worldwide who are asking for help with the current distribution crisis. Looking for solutions, the industry giant brought the problem to students in Dr. Andrew Thoeni’s Honors in Marketing class.

“This and other projects’ results are astonishingly impressive,” Thoeni said. “Students take these on, work on their own time, are managed by the companies and produce real-world results for the companies and boost their resumes in the process.”

The Honors in Marketing class is part of the Honors in Marketing program and focuses on technical and business skills, as well as communication and interpersonal skills. Thoeni, marketing instructor and head of the Honors program, also co-founded the Marketing Advisory Council and recruited its 25 members. Each fall and spring term, these companies submit projects for students in the class. The Crowley project was one of three fall projects, each completed by two students who together volunteered at least 80 hours to find solutions.

For the Crowley project, the student duo worked with a data set provided by the company, which included all worldwide shipments for the past three years, detailing what was shipped, by whom, its origin and destination. Once they imported the data to a data analysis software, they chose one category of goods and analyzed alternative manufacturing locations closer to the United States by reviewing wages, infrastructure, education level, and many other factors.

According to Thoeni, the completed work provides a “repeatable process” for Crowley: the company can now use the analysis to identify any another category of goods and find alternate manufacturing options for other companies.

The Honors in Marketing program, which started in 2019, accepts about 10 applicants each term. To graduate with an Honors in Marketing designation, students must maintain a 3.5 GPA and complete 200 hours in a professional marketing internship and 100 volunteer service hours. To date, the program participants have contributed 1,631 hours of community service.

Learn more about the Honors in Marketing program and the Marketing Advisory Council.